5. The Loved Ones (2009)
A gloriously entertaining mixture of genre clichés, teenage stereotypes and a power drill, The Loved Ones is a gory thriller that pulls no punches. Part John Hughes teen movie, part torture porn, when Lola asks Trent to go to School Prom, his answer sets off a chain reaction of Carrie-esc proportions. But where Carrie had telekinetic powers, Lola has nails and a scrapbook.
Carried along by a liberal dose of heavy metal and perfectly stylized production design, the Loved Ones is a film perfectly happy to be very strange. In the center of this world of weirdness is perhaps the most bizarre family in Australia.
One thing you certainly can’t say about Lola and her father is that they don’t get along. Their strangeness is only intensified by classically framed compositions and pop music, production choices owing much to Sean Byrne. As director he never takes what is happening on screen too seriously, making the film endlessly entertaining, whilst actor Xavier Samuel, with little dialogue, manages to look so pained, one begins to wonder whether or not he really is nailed to the floor.
Chugging along steadily and with acting so devoid of self-consciousness, it almost feels like a film that wasn’t meant to be seen, as though you’re watching someone else’s family video. But there is no doubt that this is a film that deserves to be viewed. With some truly memorable imagery, and some even more memorable quotes, The Loved Ones is a film that is finger lickin’ good.
4. The Babadook (2014)
From first time writer-director Jennifer Kent, this assured piece of work is an almost pitch perfect 93 minutes of terror. Beautifully shot, scored, acted and edited, the Babadook is one of those rare films that are more than the sum of their parts. Claustrophobic, unrelenting and kinetic, it’s a classy piece of work, steering clear of cheap jump scares, Kent instead trusting constant building tension and real horror.
The plot concerns a young boy and his single mother’s battle to overcome the titular Babadook, the subject of a twisted pop-up children’s book. After reading it to her difficult and introverted son, he is soon convinced that the Babadook is real, and a downward spiral into the supernatural begins.
However, the film is about much more than just a dark, bowler-hatted demon. Looking at the effects of death on families and the struggle to be “normal”, the Babadook is a psychological horror film with all the trappings, full of metaphor and symbolism. It still manages to thrill and on a purely surface level. It is for all intents and purposes, just as at home in a film studies class as a sleepover party.
Although fresh on the scene, with solid box office results still coming in, the Babadook is almost certainly destined to join the ranks of cult Australian films, and will hopefully mark the beginning of a long and successful career for Jennifer Kent.
3. Wake in Fright (1971)
The original examination of outback Australian life, Wake in Fright is a film soaked in beer, fear and sweat.
School teacher John Grant is off for six weeks’ holiday in Sydney. But to get there he must spend a night in “the Yabba”, a rough, isolated town full of racism, violence, heavy drinking and homophobia. The one night stay soon spirals into several days as Grant becomes a shell of his former self, caught up in the Yabba lifestyle.
On paper, Wake in Fright is not an especially scary idea. How terrifying can a couple of days in the beautiful Australian bush be? Pretty terrifying as it turns out.
The heart of this film lies in the relationship between Grant and the locals of the Yabba, a more grotesque collection of boozing, gambling men the likes of which have never been matched on screen. As one particularly dry character points out, the only way the Yabba could be worse is if the beer ran out. That doesn’t seem likely though, as the film presents an endless parade of drinking, offering temporary relief from the bleakness of Yabba life.
With one particularly memorable, very real Kangaroo hunting scene, it becomes clear that Wake in Fright is a film that could never be made again, a one-off with an atmosphere so tangible you can almost smell the sweat. As an analysis of Australian culture, it is second to none, with a all star cast of Australian screen icons. This is a compelling look at Outback Australia that is yet to be bettered.
2. Night of Fear (1972)
A very early example of the Australian exploitation genre, Night of Fear is a cult film through and through. Refused classification at time of release? Check. Shot quickly and cheaply? Check. Strange and unusual? Definitely check.
Often considered one of the forefathers of the Australian film renaissance, and indeed a pivotal film in the evolution of the horror genre, Night of Fear is still little known and even less seen. It’s a simple story about a women stuck in the woods and chased by a deranged hermit. It contains no dialogue, no character names and is only 50 minutes long, yet Night of Fear’s influence is wide ranging. Its effect can be seen from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface all the way through to Wolf Creek’s Mick Taylor.
It is difficult to imagine the television series it was originally supposed to spawn. Even now, in the era of HBO and post Twin Peaks, it would have been years ahead of its time. But that’s how it was originally commissioned; yet when production executives saw it, those plans were hastily shelved. When it was refused classification, the film was close to never seeing the light of day. Luckily for us, it did.
Slickly edited with some eerie juxtaposition of images, and with a carefully layered soundscape of experimental music, shrieks, screams and the sounds of the Australian bush, Night of Fear transcends the limitations of budget and time to be a genre-forming, rule-breaking cult classic.
1. The Snowtown Murders (2011)
Hard to sit through. Unflinchingly nasty. Ugly. These are just some of the things critics said about one of the bleakest films ever made, the utterly uncompromising story of Australia’s most prolific serial killer, John Bunting. Set in Snowtown, a poor, unhappy, part of suburban Australia, Bunting, (a terrifyingly charming Daniel Henshall) weaves his way into the community, taking under his wing 16 year old Jamie.
At first it seems as though Bunting has brought a sense of stability to Jamie’s family, restored some normalcy after Jamie’s mother’s boyfriend is ousted as a pedophile. As Bunting forces the pedophile out of town, it is seen as a victory, a moment of joy. However it soon becomes clear that Bunting is a man full of rage and righteousness, and it isn’t long before Jamie is caught up in a horrific world of murder and torture.
This film offers a fascinating look into the mind of a psychopath, without it being forced into your face. There is no overwrought reveals of dead bodies, no squealing violins to tell you when to be scared. Instead Snowtown is a calm and controlled affair. It adopts a fly on the wall feel, forcing you to watch the inevitable tragedy. Calm and controlled it may be, but horrific and perverse too. It is a film entirely devoid of hope; from the first bar of the ominous score, you know this is a story that is only going to end badly.
A realistic take on a story so dismal it could only be true, Snowtown is indeed hard to watch. But with gritty cinematography from True Detective lensman Adam Arkapaw, a solid cast of Australian fresh faces and a moody score, it will stick in the mind and prompt many hours of Wikipedia page reading, as you attempt to understand the Snowtown murders.
Author Bio: Francis Healy Wood is a rookie filmmaker trying to finish school in Melbourne, Australia whilst also trying to stop spending so much on camera gear.